I like finding Christian lists and responding to them, in fact, I’ve done so many times in the past, most recently and vocally here, but I enjoy taking what theists say and cutting right down to the meat of the issue. One thing I haven’t noticed, to be honest, and it only just occurred to me, are atheist blogs posting lists of why they don’t believe in gods, then having Christians turn around and responding to those lists. I guess there just isn’t a penchant for that kind of thing, or maybe I just haven’t run across it very often, I really don’t know.
I did, however, find this Christian blogger named Robin Schumacher who posted responses to two very common Twitter memes that I did find extremely interesting and thought it might be worth posting a response to his response. The writer also did a separate post on another common atheist argument that I’ll also respond to.
Now before we begin, let’s be honest, these are Twitter memes, they can hardly be expected to be comprehensive arguments when they have to fit in 140 characters or less. Certainly they are not the most persuasive arguments either, they are but sound bytes that are thrown around, largely for laughs, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth examining or responding to, they certainly are just as valid as any other question about religion.
1. A Response to the Argument: “Everyone is an Atheist; We Just Deny One More God Than You…”
First off, I will agree with Mr. Schumacher that simply disbelieving in one less god than an atheist doesn’t give you anything in common, any more than holding one less delusion than a mentally healthy person makes one non-psychotic. He attempted immediately to dispute that this argument cast believers in the role of atheists toward other gods, and while in the large strokes he is correct, if we simply apply the atheist label toward individual gods, he’s absolutely wrong. It only requires that one lack belief in a god to be an atheist toward that particular god. This is good as far as it goes, however, this argument bears deeper examination. It is based on a quote by Stephen Roberts that said, in full: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” I would be more apt to agree that this is a generally untrue sentiment, atheists typically reject belief in gods for lack of evidence. Theists, on the other hand, reject belief in gods other than their own, not because of evidence, but because of their pre-existing belief. Their rejection of various gods is not based on individual analysis of the claims made about those gods, it’s a wholesale rejection as a consequence of the belief they hold in one or more gods within a certain pantheon. Therefore, I would argue that a Christian, for example, who understands why they reject belief in all other gods really wouldn’t understand why atheists reject belief in their own personal deity. In fact, it makes me think more about the Christopher Hitchens quote: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence,” only said in reverse. Christians dismiss other gods without evidence or knowledge, they do so because they are asserting another claim, that their God is real, also entirely without evidence. Schumacher wins this one pretty easily, I just don’t think that’s something to be proud of.
2. A Response to the Argument: “Science Flies You to the Moon; Religion Flies You into Buildings…”
Here, he starts off with a ridiculous argument, one that should make everyone shake their heads when they read it. He asserts that science didn’t fly man to the moon because there were religious scientists working on the project. So what? Those were religious people doing SCIENCE! Prayer certainly didn’t fly anyone to the moon, it was technology, developed by application of scientific principles. Nowhere in the space program did scientists get stuck and decide to pray that it would all come out okay. It just didn’t happen. Religion had nothing whatsoever to do with it.
Next, he accuses Professor Eric Pianka of the University of Texas of recommending using a modified version of the Ebola virus to wipe out 90% of the Earth’s population as a means of showing how evil science can be. Sure, except it never happened, it was an accusation by Forrest Mims, a fellow at the Discovery Institute, a creationist center, that to my knowledge has never been independently verified to have actually happened. In other words, Mims, a Christian, lied. According to Pianka, he was discussing the potential ramifications from biological agents if current population growth continues, he never advocated it actually happening and certainly not causing it to happen artificially. Yes, he’s right, science can be misused, just like anything else, but that’s not the point of the argument, he’s taken a serious left turn at Albuquerque.
The statement, attributed to Victor Stenger, shows the power of science. It never pretends that people are perfect. Science *CAN* get you to the moon. Religion, in and of itself, gets you nowhere. Science is rational. It solves problems. It goes places. Religion is irrational. It cannot solve a problem by itself and it certainly cannot get to demonstrable, objective truth using only it’s own internal processes.
He then goes on to discuss Dawkins, saying that the Soviet Union destroyed many religious monuments and buildings, which is absolutely true. However, he fails to recognize that they did not do this in the name of atheism, but as a consequence of Communism. This is a mistake made so often, and after much correction, that I am convinced that Christian apologists are not being remotely honest when they use it. The Communist position, and that’s all that Shumacher mentions, is atheistic by consequence, not by design. It outlaws any organization, group or belief which would compromise the people’s dedication and reverence of the state. Yes, they tore down churches but they also tore down lots of other buildings, outlawed lots of groups, which had nothing whatsoever to do with religion. Christian apologists know this, they simply couldn’t continue to make a point and have any prayer of making a defense against atheism if they’d actually be honest about it. Now I don’t doubt the assertion that there are some atheists would might jump at the chance to tear down a church, people are people and there are just as many and likely many more Christians who would likely be happy to burn atheists at the stake if given a chance. That doesn’t speak toward the legitimacy of either atheism or Christianity in and of itself. And honestly, for a group that has been historically treated so badly by Christians as atheists, I wouldn’t doubt there would be some well-deserved animosity. However, most atheists I know have no direct hatred toward Christianity or any other religion, no matter what Schumacher might think.
But what about the good of Christianity? Honestly, as I say quite often, “There is nothing demonstrably true that religion can provide the world that cannot be achieved more rationally through entirely secular means.” Yes, Christian missionaries have built hospitals and schools in impoverished areas, yet these are often created as a means to convert the local population to their religion. Such improvements are rarely done for the sake of doing good, but for the sake of filling their coffers with local coin and their churches with the local faithful. That’s not really doing good, that’s preaching with an unintended by-product which might seem good. That’s like a computer company giving away millions of free computers to people who, after a year, will have to buy new versions of their operating system and software, etc. It’s certainly not altruistic if you’re trying to benefit from it.
3. A Response to the Argument: “Everyone is Born an Atheist…”
While a lot of Schumacher’s argument hinges on homosexuality, I think it’s important to address this as I’ve listed it, the fact that everyone on the planet is born an atheist, in the most basic and universal sense of the word. There’s absolutely no one anywhere in the world, anywhere in history, who has ever been born religious. Nobody pops out of the birth canal clutching a cross. Nobody gets born yelling “Allah Akbar!” It just doesn’t happen. Religion is a wholly learned behavior. A newborn child, if left entirely to their own devices, who never heard a word about the Bible or Jesus, would never become a Christian. There is no magical Christian section to the brain where kids who conveniently live in largely Christian countries just gain knowledge and faith. Therefore, the statement is 100% true, everyone is born an atheist, it’s only the people who are either indoctrinated or choose later in life to give up that inborn trait that do not remain that way.
But let’s look at his anti-homosexual arguments, just for shits and giggles. He rejects the whole claim that people are born gay because “Being born with certain behavioral predispositions does not equate to those desires being good, moral, and right in the eyes of God.” Um, okay. First, that presumes that God exists at all and secondly, that any of that means a damn thing. It doesn’t. In fact, he goes on to unintentionally destroy his own argument by saying: “I wasn’t born monogamous. I truly wish I was, but sadly, I wasn’t. My natural inclinations and drives are aimed at having sex with women, and truth be told, with multiple partners if possible.” Yup, that is exactly true, that is how you were born. It’s a part of the evolutionary development of most species, to reproduce as much as possible. However, humans have the ability to override their inborn programmed behaviors. You don’t have to be born monogamous, you can choose to act monogamous. However, where this completely blows his whole argument out of the water is the realization that no matter how you choose to act, you still are the way you are born! If you are gay, even if you decide you’re going to force yourself to act straight, that doesn’t change the reality that you’re gay!
Of course, he’s not even that worried about being born gay, he’s worried about pleasing an imaginary friend in the sky and that’s just absurd. He wants actions to be “good and moral”, but good is a subjective value judgement that people put on thoughts and actions and morality is much the same judgement on a cultural or societal level. There’s no reason to think there is a God so trying to make it happy is a waste of time.
That’s really the biggest issue here. Schumacher, like most Christian apologists, is simply not rational in his evaluation of the claims. He says he had a large notebook of anti-theist arguments he had to refute, I certainly hope he did a better job there than he’s done in this list, although I doubt it. He just takes a claim, regardless of the validity of it, and says “it conflicts with something I already believe, therefore I will summarily reject it.”
While I already said these are not the best arguments around, I think there is only one argument that is necessary against religion, any religion, and that argument is quite clear and obvious. It’s also almost universally ignored. It is:
Why should anyone believe in any god without significant objective evidence to support the claim that said god is actually real?
That’s the real question that requires an answer.